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Remember, Remember the 22nd of November

Article #246 • Written by Alan Bellows

Max Headroom Pirate Impostor
Max Headroom Pirate Impostor

On 22 November 1987, sports anchor Dan Roan of Chicago's WGN-TV News Network was narrating the video of the day's football highlights when something highly unusual happened. The pictures on the station monitors in the studio suddenly began to jitter and twitch. Across Chicago, countless other televisions did the same, as Dan's clips of the Bears game were lost in a brief flurry of static and replaced with the sinister, grinning visage of Max Headroom. Most viewers were familiar with the techno-stuttering character from the recently canceled television program bearing his name, and from advertisements for the New Coke soft drink. But there was something unsettling and surreal about this rubber-masked imposter.

As a low buzzing sound belched from thousands of televisions throughout Chicago, the intruder's image swayed and wiggled in front of a slowly rotating background. Half a minute later, as suddenly as it had appeared, the strange scene was gone. As Chicago's televisions reverted back to the world of the ordinary, the visibly flustered sports reporter reappeared, and commented, "Well, if you're wondering what happened... so am I."

WGN-TV's on-site technicians neutralized the "pirate" transmission by switching to an alternate transmitter, but the attacker's motives and methods were a mystery. It was not the first time a commercial television broadcast had been commandeered, but very few prior attempts had been successful. The previous year a satellite dish salesman going by the fanciful pseudonym "Captain Midnight" had succeeded in briefly replacing HBO's signal with a complaint about their prices, and earlier in 1987 an employee of the Christian Broadcasting Network had hijacked the Playboy Channel's signal. Both of these prior offenders had clear motives, and the authorities had successfully located and prosecuted the troublemakers. But this new instance of signal hacking was much more perplexing.

The Captain Midnight message
The Captain Midnight message

In spite of the quick actions of WGN-TV engineers, Chicago had not yet seen the last of of this new signal-plundering pirate. Almost exactly two hours after the first unplanned detour from normality, at 11:15pm, viewers of the PBS affiliate WTTW were absorbing an episode of the British sci-fi series Doctor Who when their TV pictures danced sporadically for a moment. With a randomly gyrating panel of corrugated metal used as a backdrop, the unnerving Max Headroom doppelganger launched into an eccentric diatribe in a highly distorted voice. With no engineers on location at the transmission tower, WTTW employees looked on helplessly as the intruder seized control of their broadcast.

One possible transcript follows:

"He's a freaky nerd!"

"This guy's better than Chuck Swirsky." (a WGN -TV sportscaster at the time)

"Oh Jesus!"

"Catch the wave." (a reference to the New Coke marketing slogan)

"Your love is fading."

(hums the theme song to the 1959 TV series "Clutch Cargo")

"I stole CBS."

(unintelligible)

"Oh, I just made a giant masterpiece printed all over the greatest world newspaper nerds."

"My brother is wearing the other one."

"It's dirty."

"They're coming to get me!"

This symphony of strangeness reached its crescendo when the rubber-masked imposter dropped his trousers, exposed his backside, and weathered a spirited flyswatter spanking from a female assistant. Moments later the picture went dark, and the surreal signal terminated in a flash of static. Viewers were dumped back into the pedestrian world of Doctor Who as though the bizarre buttocks-swatting incident had never happened. Many were confused and troubled by the display. The following day a number of viewers contacted the station to lodge their complaints regarding the "nudity." In a television interview, one flustered Doctor Who fan summed up his reaction: "I got so upset that I wanted to bust the TV set... I really did."

The Federal Communications Commission and the FBI sprang into action, launching independent pirate-hunting squads to unmask the disturbing messenger. It was clear that the fellow had a rare knack for electronics and microwave equipment. WTTW's uplink antenna was atop the 1,454 foot Sears tower in downtown Chicago, and investigators concluded that the "signal pirate" smothered the legitimate broadcast by sending a more powerful signal to this antenna. According to some experts in broadcasting, a rig of sufficient power could be purchased for about $25,000-- or perhaps rented for a few thousand dollars-- and the disassembled equipment could be transported using a few large suitcases. Agents believed that the perpetrator either beamed his message from the rooftop of an adjacent building, or that he somehow gained access to a powerful ground-based transmitter. But Max had covered his tracks well, there was no clear indication of how he had executed his sophisticated attack.

His motive was even more puzzling than his methods. The enigmatic message may have been due to a grudge against WGN-TV, since the station's call letters stand for "World's Greatest Newspaper," and he makes a reference to "greatest world newspaper nerds"; and he also mentions Chuck Swirsky, another WGN sports reporter at the time. But given the resources and risks involved in commandeering a commercial signal, the message seems disproportionate. At that time, the law allowed for a maximum penalty of $100,000 and one year in prison for such signal piracy. Perhaps the intrusion was merely a proof-of-concept-- a precursor of future ambitions-- or perhaps there is more meaning to the message than what is immediately evident. The Max Headroom television show had been set in a post-apocalyptic future where evil television corporations controlled the world, and freedom fighters spread their messages by zipping their pirate signal into live television feeds, and this subtle social commentary was not lost on investigators.

Whatever the impostor's intentions, he certainly took significant risks to bring his nebulous message to the televisions of Chicago. The exhaustive investigations by the three-letter agencies turned up nothing substantial, and over time the FCC and FBI resigned their manhunts without any significant insight into who he was, how he did it, or why. To this day the unexplained transmission of 22 November 1987 remains an historic curiosity, since it represents the last such signal of its kind... no other instance of a complete hijacking of a commercial broadcast has occurred in the US in the twenty years since. For now the mysterious masked Max Headroom lookalike remains at large, but his backside may never truly be safe from the mighty flyswatter of justice.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 09 January 2007. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Suggested by: ESJ.
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112 Comments
Radiatidon
Posted 09 January 2007 at 09:43 am

Just shows that the "hacker mentality" have been around for a long time be it computers, television, radio, or whatever…


peridot window
Posted 09 January 2007 at 09:46 am

Truly fascinating. I wonder why he would go to such lengths and expenses to do such a silly thing.


Radiatidon
Posted 09 January 2007 at 09:55 am

peridot window said: "Truly fascinating. I wonder why he would go to such lengths and expenses to do such a silly thing."

Bragging rights.


Cesium
Posted 09 January 2007 at 09:58 am

peridot window said: "Truly fascinating. I wonder why he would go to such lengths and expenses to do such a silly thing."

How many people scramble on this forum to get "First" in comments? For bragging rights.


Cesium
Posted 09 January 2007 at 09:58 am

Awww poop. The Don beat me to it.


FireDude
Posted 09 January 2007 at 10:00 am

Anyone know if the first WGN transmitter was also on the Sears Tower? I would assume the WTTW attack was a crime of opportunity once the original plan fell through. If I rented some hardware for a few thousand dollars, I'd sure try to get that signal out.


Stead311
Posted 09 January 2007 at 10:17 am

I can't believe that the FBI had NO leads on this one. When you purchase large amounts of equipment; such purchases are often documented and easy to trace. Even renting, which is easier to trace, would seem like a simple task. Fact is no average joe can do what this guy did. I would seriously question everyone in the building and see if they knew anyone with ill feelings toward the station or someone in it. It just seems to be flashing lights and sirens but no one had ANY idea who or why. Seems odd to me.


Radiatidon
Posted 09 January 2007 at 10:19 am

FireDude said: "Anyone know if the first WGN transmitter was also on the Sears Tower? I would assume the WTTW attack was a crime of opportunity once the original plan fell through. If I rented some hardware for a few thousand dollars, I'd sure try to get that signal out."

Tribune Company's WGN and WTTW a PBS station both had antennas on the Sears Tower. Due to its location and height the tower is used by various tv and radio stations.


rev.felix
Posted 09 January 2007 at 10:38 am

The mighty flyswatter of justice? Really, Alan.


ConcernedCitizen
Posted 09 January 2007 at 11:04 am

@rev.felix: I think that was a joke... referring back to this part earlier in the text: "This symphony of strangeness reached its crescendo when the rubber-masked imposter dropped his trousers, exposed his backside, and weathered a spirited flyswatter spanking from a female assistant."


Shandooga
Posted 09 January 2007 at 11:08 am

I'm 100%, absolutely, not guilty...but *IF I DID IT* here's how I think it *could* have been done....


FireDude
Posted 09 January 2007 at 11:26 am

So would the two hour delay correspond to recalibrating his transmitter, or did it just take him that long to find out they swapped the transmitter on him?


siliconmonk
Posted 09 January 2007 at 11:29 am

Stead311 said: "I can't believe that the FBI had NO leads on this one. When you purchase large amounts of equipment; such purchases are often documented and easy to trace. Even renting, which is easier to trace, would seem like a simple task. Fact is no average joe can do what this guy did. "

He probably built it. High-powered transmitters are not that difficult to construct. Plans are/were available for this type of equipment even in '87 when there was no Internet. If the guy was an electronics engineer, he could have easily designed and built it himself without using plans.


Radiatidon
Posted 09 January 2007 at 11:39 am

FireDude said: "So would the two hour delay correspond to recalibrating his transmitter, or did it just take him that long to find out they swapped the transmitter on him?"

Various factors come into play.

1. Type and location of his/their transmitter and if it was home built or off the shelf.
2. Ability to change modulation of signal to override corresponding signal.
3. If His/their transmitter was a microwave unit, the “dish” had to be realigned on the second antenna. Not a simple task.
4. Did they have the modulation of the second signal, if not then they had to find one that was within the abilities of his/their equipment.

These and other factors would account for the time delay between the two pirated signals.


senorstu
Posted 09 January 2007 at 12:03 pm

This is a damn interesting event, especially since no one has replicated the feat. It is kind of frustrating that his "message" was completely nonsensical.

The fact that he had no clearly defined point supports the idea that this was one of those "because I can" hacks. Or possibly a bet with another aspiring pirate?

I like to think he pirated Dr. Who on the assumption that its sci-fi audience would be more appreciative of his ingenuity and indisputable weirdness.

This, of course, is assuming it was an Earth-based transmission...


Radiatidon
Posted 09 January 2007 at 12:52 pm

senorstu said: "This is a damn interesting event, especially since no one has replicated the feat."

Actually this has happened various other times.

At 5:12 pm on November 26, 1977 the voice of Vrillon of the Ashtar Galactic Command accompanied by a “bopping” sound, was heard on British television. Though the newscaster’s picture was still on the video, Vrillon replaced his voice. The altered broadcast lasted 5 ½ minutes and the “alien” has never been found.

senorstu your statment

"This, of course, is assuming it was an Earth-based transmission…"

said in jest fit the above example very nicely. :)

In the mid-nineties a group of Italian independents substituted the evening-news audio with separatist and extremist messages. As in the British broadcast the video was still there, just the audio was replaced.

On July 31st, 2006 Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television was disrupted with pictures of dead Hezbollah soldiers and an Arabic message written on the screen accusing Hassan Nasrallah of being a liar. This is turn was followed by caricatures of him with captions that read, “Your days are numbered”, “Nasrallah your time is up. Soon you won’t be with us anymore.”

University students altered a weather ticket-tape application on a Raleigh, N. Carolina Time Warner cable News 14 channel. Posted in the usual headings were "h4x0r3d Computer Services Inc. shutdown due to weater", "1337 5p34k Linguistic Services", "All Your Base Are Belong To Us", and a note that "Tutone Inc." would be closed, and employees should call "Jenny at 867-5309" for more details.

Then there is Falun Gong out of Taiwan whose group is constantly hijacking Chinese television to support their anti-Chinese government activist.

These are but a few examples of broadcast hijacks.


CanInternet
Posted 09 January 2007 at 01:23 pm

Makes me sentimental. A story like this and brings back memories when Amsterdam (the Netherlands) got their cable. After midnight when regular broadcasts stopped the pirates took over. Beaming from vans their trembling video broadcasts towards the Okura Hotel were the receiver antennas from the cable company were. First a movie in gruelling colors (pinkish-purple mostly, a effect that totally ruined the advertisements of a local butcher giving meat a not to fresh look). The horrible jingle of "De Tapijtunie" (a rebate carpet store). And off course at three at night a good hardcore porn movie dubbed in a fat amsterdam-accented kinda way.


FireDude
Posted 09 January 2007 at 01:40 pm

FireDude said: "Anyone know if the first WGN transmitter was also on the Sears Tower? "

Reprinted newpaper articles and television reports from a contemporary bulletin board newsletter:
http://www.textfiles.com/magazines/TOLMES/tns14

Apparently, the WGN transmitter was on top of the Hancock Building, not the Sears Tower. Following Radiatidon's responses above (thank you) I imagine Mr. Headroom was probably pretty irritated when he lost his signal to WGN. The discussion in the link above makes it sound more like an angry fan of Max Headroom than the disgruntled employee I first assumed. Probably also explains the gibberish.

I don't think I'll ever like a television program enough to break federal law.


rev.felix
Posted 09 January 2007 at 01:44 pm

@ConcernedCitizen: I know it was a joke, I was cringing at it. It's just hard to put sarcasm into writing.


dracotaz
Posted 09 January 2007 at 02:33 pm

Actually I think it is rather refreshing to know that the human spirit actually can continue under the thumb of modern laws and regulations. I admire the perpetrator for his sheer audacity, and hope to see more work in the near future.


Radiatidon
Posted 09 January 2007 at 02:52 pm

FireDude said: "Apparently, the WGN transmitter was on top of the Hancock Building, not the Sears Tower. Following Radiatidon's responses above (thank you) "

You are correct in that the primary transmitter is now on the Hancock building. My error was based on WGN-TV having a digital transmitter on the Sear’s tower, but that has no bearing on this story. During the Max-Headroom WGN was transmitting from the Hancock Building. When it was realized the signal was corrupted, engineers switched the modulation thus correcting the problem. Unfortunately for WTTW, whose transmitter was on the Sear’s Tower, they did not have engineers available to correct the hijack.


Alan Bellows
Posted 09 January 2007 at 03:07 pm

Edit note: I slightly revised one line of this article just now to be more clear and correct... no complete hijackings of commercial broadcasts have since occurred in the US. Sorry for prior ambiguity.


ke4roh
Posted 09 January 2007 at 03:47 pm

Alan Bellows said: "Viewers were dumped back into the pedestrian world of Doctor Who..."

Such delightful juxtaposition of time travel and "pedestrian," and the word is a perfect fit!


Fibonacci
Posted 09 January 2007 at 04:22 pm

Is it just me, or is there a reason for me being reminded of "V for Vendetta"?


ncains
Posted 09 January 2007 at 04:43 pm

Radiatidon said: "University students altered a weather ticket-tape application on a Raleigh, N. Carolina Time Warner cable News 14 channel. Posted in the usual headings were "h4×0r3d Computer Services Inc. shutdown due to weater", "1337 5p34k Linguistic Services", "All Your Base Are Belong To Us", and a note that "Tutone Inc." would be closed, and employees should call "Jenny at 867-5309" for more details."

I read about this story awhile back so I may be mistaken .. but I'm pretty sure the News 14 Channel was never 'hijacked'. If I remember correctly, it was snowing heavily in the region at the time and many shops/schools and such had to close on these days. At the station, someone incredibly intelligent decided that they'd do the public a great service and scroll captions at the bottom of the screen while the news was being broadcasted, about what services were closed/opened etc. The trouble was that it relied on the public going to the News 14 website and submitting their own information in regards to their business and the weather. I read that the News 14 Channel website did have some sort of screening as to what was appropriate to air, but this was done by an electronic checklist, if that makes sense? So no one from the news station actually read what was going to be aired, before it was aired! As soon as it was realised one could simply submit anything with only a little modification to get past the screening, it went wild from there.

The other examples you mentioned don't really seem to be on such a large scale as the Max Headroom hijacking, or at least in environments one could possibly consider 'less organised'.


Trygstad
Posted 09 January 2007 at 05:27 pm

Given the skill and experience of thousands of 'Net hackers, you do have to wonder if the move to digital TV with feeds via TCP/IP might not result in some new and more creative hijackings. I'd certainly be surprised if it didn't, but only time will tell.


halepauhana
Posted 09 January 2007 at 05:45 pm

Hmm, now I really have to wonder about a friend of mine who goes by the pseudonym "Captain Midnight"... last time I was at his place he was outside, with a TV set on the front lawn, aiming a satellite dish and looking for signals...


ballaerina
Posted 09 January 2007 at 09:22 pm

Did that picture freak anyone else out? Geez. I'd wig if I was calmly watching my favorite TV show and that thing came on. Reminds me of the movie "Saw."


Intellectual-Bonobo Hybrid.
Posted 09 January 2007 at 10:47 pm

I suspect he went on to make a fortune in the Internet. Cold case episode: have Jobs, Gates, et. al., account for where they were that night.


Didoka
Posted 10 January 2007 at 06:02 am

Man how creepy would that be? Just sitting there watching your show, when all of a sudden some creepy guy with a mask pops up with some weird place being shown. If I was watching that, I'd have trouble sleeping that night.


tomslatin
Posted 10 January 2007 at 06:41 am

Didoka said: "Man how creepy would that be? Just sitting there watching your show, when all of a sudden some creepy guy with a mask pops up with some weird place being shown. If I was watching that, I'd have trouble sleeping that night."

So would I! I'm just sad that I missed it when it did happen!


hdickins
Posted 10 January 2007 at 06:46 am

I miss Max. I daresay he's been superceded by many other characters. But it'd be good to see his quirky pre-internet humour again.


8lbs
Posted 10 January 2007 at 08:44 am

This makes me think of a scene from the Michael Douglas film, 'The Game.' I imagine some higher up at WGN was unknowingly being watched, and these TV hijackers are announcing it to him by interrupting his--and everyone's--bedtime viewing. I'm guessing all the seemingly random statements are related to private things said and done in his bedroom, and as he lays in bed realizing this, he's saying, "They're coming to get me," which they repeat back to him. Intimidation, possibly from cola advertisers, and probably very affective.


midnight
Posted 10 January 2007 at 09:02 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnDYssFcNxc

It was creepier if you saw it as a 13year old staying up late at night. The sound was the thing that creeped me out.


nilicule
Posted 10 January 2007 at 09:30 am

ncains said: "I read about this story awhile back so I may be mistaken .. but I'm pretty sure the News 14 Channel was never 'hijacked'.

Correct.

The Register has more info about the prank: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/03/05/wags_hijack_tv_channels_onscreen/

The forum post inviting people to join in on the prank is here: http://brentroad.com/message_topic.aspx?topic=180137&page=1

There used to be an image archive online as well that featured pictures from the prank, but I can't seem to find one that's still working.


Cesium
Posted 10 January 2007 at 09:35 am

ncains said: "The other examples you mentioned don't really seem to be on such a large scale as the Max Headroom hijacking, or at least in environments one could possibly consider 'less organised'."

ncains said: "The other examples you mentioned don't really seem to be on such a large scale as the Max Headroom hijacking, or at least in environments one could possibly consider 'less organised'."

From your comment it can be assumed that you don't travel? Pre-conceived notions about a countries social standings from third parties, really. China is as diverse a country as the USA, Europe, or any other Western country. Thinking a country is “less organized” sic, is not being fair to that culture. The hijacking of China’s broadcasts last longer and more far reaching as to number of viewers than the Max-headroom highjack. Not all Chinese wear fat hats and stand in swamps picking rice. I know many with laptops, cell phones, ipods, and Armani suits.

Having been there, seen that, I can tell you it is very unsettling when it happens regardless if it is in Chicago or Hong Kong. A very hot topic around the 'ol water cooler at work.

I also googled Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television and from what I understand the station is state-of-the-art, far superior to the system in Chicago at the time of the Max-headroom hijack. It also has redundant systems that had to be overcome in order to override the signal. Sounds like a harder nut-to-crack than Chicago’s. There are many Middle-Eastern cities just as modern as anything you can find in the West. Plus Max-headroom did not threaten someone nor show your fellow countrymen dead. The psychological ramifications of that alone seems more damaging to one’s well being than the Max Head-room attack.

But then that’s just little-ol-me’s opinion.


cerebulon
Posted 10 January 2007 at 10:01 am

I remember an incident very similar to this. When I was a kid, my family lived in Panama City, Florida. I was in the living room playing with some toys while my parents were watching the news. Abruptly, the newscast's image began to warp and distort and was replaced by a grainy shot of a bedroom with a teenager looking into the screen.

He looked bored at first, but then realized he had interupted the newscast. I remember him saying: "Oh sh*t! Oh sh*t, we did it!" At this point another teenager ran into view and looked into the camera. They both started screaming and jumping around in celebration. Soon after the signal changed back to the news, where the newscaster aplogized for the interruption.

I don't remember ever hearing anything about them being arrested, or any followup in the news about the hijacked signal.


Radiatidon
Posted 10 January 2007 at 10:04 am

ncains said: "I read about this story awhile back so I may be mistaken .. but I'm pretty sure the News 14 Channel was never 'hijacked'."

Though the ticker tape was an open forum, its primary use was for weather closures. By posting incorrect information without consent, they basically hijacked the ticker tape from its original purpose by diverting it for misinformation. You could say the perpetrators were stealing. If they posted a company closure, then employees and/or customers would either not show-up that day or tie up the phone system with calls to verify the ticker tape.

Or say they listed a private individual’s phone number as a contact for a business. Now that person is receiving tons of unwanted calls. On the flip side customers/employees are frustrated that the line is constantly busy so they cannot get the truth about the posting. In my opinion, it could have been just as costly and/or disruptive as the Max Head-room episode.


Misfit
Posted 10 January 2007 at 12:45 pm

I go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I must say this is nothing too far from the norm here. It is definitely stranger than most, and still disturbing, but you'd be surprised by what I'm able to compare it to.

In terms of its historical context, it is definitely a prime example of the largely idealized post-modern thinking of the mid-to-late 1980's. The obvious anti-technological message present is a clear indication of that.

I believe that this footage is a good clear representation of the word "tease," and here's why.

The spinning background certainly adds to the confusion of the scene, robbing us of any passing information we might get, through means of distracting and entrancing the eye.

The lighting is impeccably spent towards a high-contrast "in your face" feel. The corrugated metal backdrop is lit in such a way as to produce black-and white stripes, which contrast with the figure and fall into the background, pushing the man's image out towards us.

The audio is of obvious poor quality, most likely done on purpose to keep us guessing as to what the figure Max is telling us. We are left believing that we might get something out of all of this, but what we are left with are bits and pieces of sentences that hardly flow together at all. The viewers are left desperately wanting, needing to hear something coherent and understandable.

The suit that Max is wearing doesn't quite fit with the confusion of the scene, but what it does do is blend in with the disproportionate mask that is worn. It blends in unnoticed. This is well used to keep the viewer's attention focused on the figure's massive noggin.

The profile shot of the buttocks in particular is clearly indicative of the word "tease." The fact that this shot's composition allows neither for a view of the face of the man the buttocks belongs to, nor for a sight of the woman who is doing the spanking, makes us as the viewer want to know who they are. Moreover, our sight of the mask being waved to the camera before said spanking takes place, lets us know that the man is no longer wearing it, and we are left to believe that we might see his face but we don't. We are left feeling that he is somehow more naked than he really is. The fact that the shot of the buttocks is at a perfectly right angle gives us no satifaction in actually seeing the task taking place. Sure we can see the spanking occurring, and that lets us know what is happening, but we get no satisfaction in terms of detail--the arragement of light and shadow allow for hardly any sense of space or form--the camera angle doesn't give this scene the in-your-face feel that was clearly shown previous. We are left with a desire to "see" everything. Hence the description, "that buttocks spanking scene sure was a tease."

The placement of the video in the context of the show it interrupts was highly organized, well timed, and intelligently orchestrated. The scene in "Dr. Who" ends just as the figures are discovering something, something important and likely crucial to the flow of the plot. As soon as Max's video ends, things turn back to normal and we see Dr. Who, who is examining a character on the ground, and exclaims something to the extent of "... suffered a massive shock--he died instantly!" We were obviously robbed of a crucial piece of information! (brilliance in action). Another view at the word "tease."

The details of this video were obviously well-thought-out and skillfully exectuted, save for a couple of trouble-spots...

The figure's movements are not fluid at all. They seem sporratic, uncertain, as though nothing was planned and that this was all done on improv. While benefit of the doubt is usually due, I don't believe it was done on purpose, and that fact hinders my opinion of it.

My final review is:

This guy obviously knew what he was doing, was definitely smart and crafty, and deserves his due in terms of brilliance as to the delivery of the message, but needs acting skills, badly.

(Note: if nobody finds this critique funny, then it means one of two things:
One: I'm just not as funny as I think I am, or
Two: Being in art school has scarred me for life in ways I may never know)

THE END!


Radiatidon
Posted 10 January 2007 at 01:03 pm

Misfit said: "In terms of its historical context, it is definitely a prime example of the largely idealized post-modern thinking of the mid-to-late 1980's. The obvious anti-technological message present is a clear indication of that.


The details of this video were obviously well-thought-out and skillfully exectuted, save for a couple of trouble-spots…

My final review is:

This guy obviously knew what he was doing, was definitely smart and crafty, and deserves his due in terms of brilliance as to the delivery of the message, but needs acting skills, badly."

So… I’m confused here. Is that a “Two Thumbs Way Up”? : D

Okay your “Scar”casim has damaged me for life. Guess my artistic eye needs adjusting. Thanks for the giggle.


Secret Ninja
Posted 10 January 2007 at 05:07 pm

Well, if I'm ever feeling down, or like a lame excuse for a man, I can reassure myself I'm not artistic.


cornerpocket
Posted 10 January 2007 at 06:59 pm

Does this remind anyone of John Galt, only much briefer and more entertaining?


systmh
Posted 10 January 2007 at 08:12 pm

woulda been spookier if he just sat there and said nothing, with that eerie hum in the background.
damn interesting, i wonder who did it... and where i can get my hands on that type of equipment.


Misfit
Posted 10 January 2007 at 08:24 pm

Radiatidon said: "So... I'm confused here. Is that a "Two Thumbs Way Up"? : D"

Yeah I WISH art critiques were that simple.

Radiatidon said: "Okay your "Scar"casm has damaged me for life."

Glad to contribute.

"Thanks for the giggle"

HOORAY I'M SLIGHTLY FUNNY!!


another viewpoint
Posted 10 January 2007 at 09:56 pm

...wh..wh..wh..what's that you say?

...I..th..th..th..thought WGN stood for "Worlds Greatest Network".

...K..k..k..kinda like WLS...Worlds Largest (Lousiest) radio Station. 'member Lujack and L'il Tommy and others?


Grantytis
Posted 11 January 2007 at 12:25 am

LAST!


Silverhill
Posted 11 January 2007 at 12:47 am

Don't you just wish.... ;-)


yukon
Posted 11 January 2007 at 04:19 am

Jesus F---ing christ. That image itself unnerved me. So eerie. I would have freaked out had I been watching tv when this happened.


HarleyHetz
Posted 11 January 2007 at 06:02 am

Radiatidon said: "Various factors come into play.


1. Type and location of his/their transmitter and if it was home built or off the shelf.
2. Ability to change modulation of signal to override corresponding signal.
3. If His/their transmitter was a microwave unit, the “dish” had to be realigned on the second antenna. Not a simple task.
4. Did they have the modulation of the second signal, if not then they had to find one that was within the abilities of his/their equipment.

These and other factors would account for the time delay between the two pirated signals."

Then again...it may have just taken him that long to find a chick with a fly swatter that was willing...
;)


sulkykid
Posted 11 January 2007 at 09:19 am

another viewpoint said: "…wh..wh..wh..what's that you say?


…I..th..th..th..thought WGN stood for "Worlds Greatest Network".

…K..k..k..kinda like WLS…Worlds Largest (Lousiest) radio Station. 'member Lujack and L'il Tommy and others?"

WGN - World's Greatest Newspaper
WLS - World's Largest Store
WBBM - World's Best Battery Maker


Abe Froman
Posted 11 January 2007 at 02:38 pm

I've had a lot of time to research this, since I'm the brother of the guy who posted this on YouTube (fuzzymemories).

Some possible additions to Further Info:

http://www.etext.org/CuD/TNS/tns14
http://www.etext.org/CuD/TNS/tns15
http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/5.63.html#subj2
http://winstonengle.tripod.com/chicagowho/maxhead.htm
http://www.cyberartsweb.org/cpace/cyborg/film/pellauer.html


dterry
Posted 12 January 2007 at 05:30 am

I visit this site on a daily basis and I am rarely disappointed in the articles. There is a lot of crap on the internet and 90% of it isn't worth the time to look at it. Keep up the good and damn interesting work.


NinerSevenTango
Posted 12 January 2007 at 06:40 am

Yes, it reminded me of John Galt.

The whole story left me wondering why everyone, including apparently the station and the authorities, assumed that the signal was hijacked in the most difficult and expensive way possible. There are much simpler ways to do it, and many, many ways to cover your tracks and throw investigators off the trail. In other words, if I wanted to do something like that, I would purposely make it look like a jammed microwave signal. Gives them lots of ground to investigate!


Radiatidon
Posted 12 January 2007 at 07:56 am

NinerSevenTango said: "The whole story left me wondering why everyone, including apparently the station and the authorities, assumed that the signal was hijacked in the most difficult and expensive way possible."

The information was in fact exaggerated to hopefully discourage any copycat repeats. By providing basically true but misleading details they were buying time to evaluate how it was done. Better to spend your time figuring ways to avoid a repeat than fending off copycat attacks.


sh0cktopus
Posted 12 January 2007 at 06:03 pm

Fibonacci said: "Is it just me, or is there a reason for me being reminded of "V for Vendetta"?"

I do believe Alan had this in mind when he came up with the title of the article. In the graphic novel (and movie) it was, however, the fifth of November that we must remember, in reference to the nursery rhyme about Guy Fawkes:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

(Why are "nursery rhymes" always about such dark topics?) And for those not acquainted with this particular work of fiction, the anti-hero "V" commandeers a television broadcast in a similar manner, albeit with a much more coherent message. I would suggest reading the book, along with all the works of Alan Moore, and skip the movie.

Thanks for the nostalgia trip of Max Headroom and New Coke. Now I'm starting to feel old.


brienhopkins
Posted 12 January 2007 at 06:05 pm

Oh that. That was me.


totoro!totoro!
Posted 12 January 2007 at 10:32 pm

I was barely a year old when this happened, so obviously I missed this... but it makes me so nostalgic for the eighties!


yomama
Posted 17 January 2007 at 12:26 pm

this sucks im in skool rit now and i saw this and it sucks kk bi


Mike Hearn
Posted 17 January 2007 at 03:01 pm

Digital TV does not use TCP/IP, and is almost impossible to hijack. In the old analogue days to hijack a signal you just had to overpower it, more or less. Modern TV streams are made up of several channels multiplexed together and then encrypted using a rotating key. If you're serious about hijacking the signal, your best bet is to get a job with the TV companies.


zerobubble
Posted 19 January 2007 at 06:33 am

How come its only America that has truely exciting things like this happening. It sucks being an Eskimo


Jonitiranes
Posted 21 January 2007 at 08:21 am

zerobubble said: "How come its only America that has truely exciting things like this happening. It sucks being an Eskimo"

Trust me! U.S is not the only one. You just don't hear things like this in other countries becuase they are not reported in U.S.


pastabagel
Posted 23 January 2007 at 12:15 pm

No one appears to have noticed that the pirate broadcast date, Nov. 22, 1987, is almost exactly 24 years after the first Doctor Who episode was broadcast on Nov. 23, 1963. Apparently, Max Headroom was a whovian.


faggot
Posted 26 January 2007 at 02:32 am

hi my name is jake im a big faggot


faggot
Posted 26 January 2007 at 02:33 am

hi i live next to millie at rowan avenue in hove and i suck dick all day


faggot
Posted 26 January 2007 at 02:35 am

01273 880879 this is my number call me for a great night


faggot
Posted 26 January 2007 at 02:37 am

my name is really scott daniels i live on spencer avenue please reply i love cock


Dooper
Posted 29 January 2007 at 06:35 pm

I was watching Dr. Who on WTTW the night that this happened. It was eerie. I was also involved with public access on cable TV, which was in it's infancy at the time. I was aware of people in the industry with access to microwave transmitting trucks who weren't beyond pulling something like this off. That would explain where the equipment needed could have come from. In fact, there are elements in this strange segment that put me in mind of someone I knew at the time in particular. I've always had a sneaky suspicion about his involvement, but I have no real proof. Whether or not the FAA or FBI ever talked to him is anyones guess, I certainly didn't drop a dime. The person I'm thinking of went on to become a producer on the Jerry Springer Show (long since moved on, btw). Go figure.


brownie_molester
Posted 30 January 2007 at 08:00 pm

Something that no one mention so far with this beautifuly orchestrated television hijack is the editing aspect of it - before the sequence got to the spanking part toward the end, there's a clear cut in the continuity. First 'Max', as we've been calling him, is not in the same position, is holding the mask with his hands, and on top of that, there's an extra character - the spanking lady.
That considers - it means basically that this guy did probably pre-recorded and edited his segment before putting it on air because of that break in the conitnuity.
Adding to the 'mise-en-scene' aspect of this, it looks more and more like an insider 'coup'. Probably a frustrated maintenance technician who knew is sh*t very very well and wanted to give his bosses a hard time...
Does anyone has other reccurency of those live 'piracy' incidents - I think it's a very interesting phenomena - normal people trying to 'hack', at that time, into a new kind of technology / network / communication support ?


ardna
Posted 03 February 2007 at 01:21 pm

totoro!totoro! said: "I was barely a year old when this happened, so obviously I missed this… but it makes me so nostalgic for the eighties!"

So true! I was exactly a year old on Nov. 22 '87. Why do we feel so nostalgic for these times of early computers, video games, phone phreaking, and the television of the day? What is it about the culture of the '80s?


Searunner52
Posted 07 February 2007 at 09:14 am

Let us also not forget that on November 22, 1963 President John F Kennedy was assassinated!


iq_two
Posted 07 February 2007 at 06:55 pm

Maybe it wasn't pointless. They could have acctually been sending an important message in code. It would be intereting to see what cryptographers have to say about it. You never know...


pencap23
Posted 10 February 2007 at 07:07 pm

Radiatidon said: "Bragging rights."

Except he probably wont tell anyone, or cant.

Thats a really creepy event...


Malregarbitation
Posted 17 February 2007 at 07:13 am

My translation:
"...does it... He's a freakin' nerd! Tee hee hee hee..."

"Yeah, and I think I'm better than Chuck Swirsky! Freakin' liberaaaal..."

"Oh Jesus! Oh ho ho ho ho... ho ho!"

(Different voice off-camera: "[Someone's name] won't be a man...")

"Catch The Wave?"

(singing) "Your love is fad-ing..."

Sings "Clutch Cargo" theme

"I still see the X..." (There's a CC episode titled "The Big X")

"Haaaa... ohhhhhhh, my piles!" (i.e., hemorrhoids)

"Oh I just laid a giant master keister all over the greatest world
newspaper nerds!"

"My brother is wearing the other one..."

"But it's dirty! Looks like you got blood (blanks?) on it! Oh!"

"They're coming to get me...!"

(Different voice off-camera: "You son-of-a-bitch!")

"Ahhhhh! Oh, nitwits! Ha-ha-hahhhhh!"


Malregarbitation
Posted 17 February 2007 at 07:14 am

My interpretation: Max was a technician who was fired from WGN-TV. He was fired by an underling, rather than his boss/supervisor ("...won't be a man"/"You son of a bitch.") This was specifically designed to exact revenge on someone at WGN. However, he was thwarted by the technical staff at WGN, so it all backfired. He hijacked WTTW's carrier signal instead, but the tape didn't make any sense in the context of Doctor Who


Malregarbitation
Posted 17 February 2007 at 07:19 am

I can't be certain, but the female "assistant" appears to be a young girl wearing a "Brownie" uniform and a dust mask. At any rate, she's much smaller than Max. As if it weren't creepy enough...


Malregarbitation
Posted 17 February 2007 at 07:41 am

Re: "I still see the X" versus "I stole CBS."

In the midst of singing the Clutch Cargo theme, he stops and says "I still see the X." Clutch Cargo aired on WGN-TV, and there is an episode titled "The Big X." Furthermore, WGN hadn't been a CBS affiliate since the early fifties, so "I stole CBS" doesn't make much sense here. This stunt was all about WGN.


RageIsTheNewBlack
Posted 18 February 2007 at 09:09 pm

faggot said: "hi my name is jake im a big faggot"

faggot said: "hi i live next to millie at rowan avenue in hove and i suck dick all day"

faggot said: "01273 880879 this is my number call me for a great night"

faggot said: "my name is really scott daniels i live on spencer avenue please reply i love cock"

You're obviously not Scott Daniels or Jake. You're the true faggot, though, for coming on here and posting these idiotic and obnoxious remarks. Especially seeing that you got yourself a shiny new account just for posting them *wonders if there is a system of banning members on wordpress* *goes to check for said system*

Stupid 13-year-old trolls.
Stay on MySpace, why don't you?

Anyways, I'd be scared crapless if that came on my TV screen. Just looking at the image while reading the article gave me the creeps.

I find it very funny that he got away with this. I also find it funny that the authorities would even waste their time on trying to catch him. Well, I guess that the bare-bottomed spanking by a girl-scout should merit some punishment...


deepfocus88
Posted 28 February 2007 at 07:41 am

I created a website regarding this facinating incident. I have included my interpretation of what "Max" said in detail. Enjoy.

See the X


Moonbeam
Posted 26 March 2007 at 06:36 pm

No big mystery here. It was Jonathan Brandmier. Buzz Killman was the one manning the fly swatter....


j018
Posted 28 March 2007 at 08:07 am

I hate this thing, i was researching for my JFK essay and came across this. You all think this story is wierd well im all for that but i can't even look at the face on the picture it scares me to death and whoever posted the article thanks for scaring me =O lol xx


Emmy
Posted 19 June 2007 at 05:34 pm

I could see myself doing something like that

but without the flyswattering


Anonymousx2
Posted 20 November 2007 at 06:26 am

First! -- for a repeated article.

Hmm... Not exactly a rush of excitement.

Wonder if it's better with an unused article?


oldmancoyote
Posted 20 November 2007 at 07:44 pm

ardna said: "So true! I was exactly a year old on Nov. 22 '87. Why do we feel so nostalgic for these times of early computers, video games, phone phreaking, and the television of the day? What is it about the culture of the '80s?"

Happy Birfday, young'en.

Personally, I always thought the real Max was a little on the creepy side. I can understand why the character was used. Max was a bit of an icon at the time and who better to do your bidding? If the guy had been in a Nixon mask, everyone would have just turned the channel.

Alan, you had me going with REMEMBER THE 22nd. I was expecting JFK conspiracies but you gave us this little gem instead. Kudos for sending us back in time to the happening 80's.


oldmancoyote
Posted 20 November 2007 at 07:45 pm

BTW, ardna, I don't think anyone is nostalgic for the COMMODORE PET.


rev.felix
Posted 20 November 2007 at 09:31 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, don't eat to much pie, don't highjack any television stations.


supercalafragalistic
Posted 20 November 2007 at 10:16 pm

Perhaps there were 2 people with 2 signals and the first interuption and the second interuption were from different people? Just a thought. Back in the 80's people could do so much without getting caught! Who's to say they won't still get caught someday? I live in Chicago and I'm just mentally flipping through my roladex of creative friends. I'm sure I know someone who knows a good tidbit or two about this. What a liberating feeling it must have been in the moment, but also what a burden to keep it a secret for all of these years. Another thought would be to check the obituaries for suicides on the same day or within the same week. It could have been a mentally unstable cry for help. Also, it reminds me of the movie Pump up the Volume where Christian Slater plays a troubled kid who takes over the radio airwaves illegally. Think of the 80's movie Ferris Buler's Day off where the high school kid resorts to many prank like antics to get away with skipping school. Those antics are such a tame way to blow off steam compared to the Virginia Tech shootings a few decades later. I sure wish more people would tell off the establishment of today!!!


Richard Solensky
Posted 21 November 2007 at 05:24 am

oldmancoyote said: "BTW, ardna, I don't think anyone is nostalgic for the COMMODORE PET."

Ah, the PET. The first "PC" I was introduced to. My high school got one to introduce the math classes to computer science. I wrote about it for our school paper...


nona
Posted 21 November 2007 at 05:45 am

I'd hardly call Dr Who pedestrian - in fact, there are some episodes of Dr Who where this would have fitted in nicely. There are probably still some Dr Who fans out there searching for the freaky episode with the plastic robot.

Other than that - what a great example of sticking it to the man! (Whatever that may mean)


timtam
Posted 22 November 2007 at 09:59 am

i watched the video all alone in a dark room after coming home from the bar last night, all schnockered up on cheap beer and wine. needless to say, i was super creeped out. i'm now a little worried that it was somehow like the video within the movie The Ring and that something awful is going to happen to me now for having watched.


MattSF
Posted 23 November 2007 at 02:54 pm

some notes...

Misfit wrote: "The spinning background certainly adds to the confusion of the scene, robbing us of any passing information we might get, through means of distracting and entrancing the eye." I would agree this is the effective impact of the scene but don't forget, that's how Max Headroom always appeared: with a series of parallel lines always turning and moving in the background. You might be giving a tad too much cred to Max the Pirate :)

Searunner 52 wrote: "Let us also not forget that on November 22, 1963 President John F Kennedy was assassinated!" Yes and not only that, but Doctor Who the series premiered the next night on the BBC, November 23, 1963.

I was a big Dr Who fan (living in Boston) at the time..had something like this happened, I would have been really excited and impressed. Go pirates go!


Richard Solensky
Posted 23 November 2007 at 09:23 pm

Is it just me, or does that look like David Letterman?

(And 'Doctor Who' rules!)


supplex
Posted 25 November 2007 at 04:41 pm

the youtube video didnt work for me.. so here is the correct link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cycVTXtm0U0


Sandy
Posted 29 November 2007 at 03:49 pm

Creepy... Isn't there a "techie" way to take the voice recording, clean it up, un-distort it, and get a better idea of how the natural voice of "Max" sounds? (So that perhaps someone might recognize the voice and [potentially] identify "Max"?)


Luke
Posted 03 December 2007 at 03:17 pm

That kind of stuff scares me.


Collier Hageman
Posted 04 December 2007 at 02:32 pm

'Creepy' and 'frightening'? Hardly! Absurd and bizarre certainly but I see nothing in it that is scary. Seriously, grow a pair! This reeks of a college prank by some high-tech electrical/electronic engineering students, possibly done on a bet. And I feel there is a high probability that 'Max' was very drunk at the time -- which would account for the rambling and incoherency. Quite likely the whole crew (oh yeah there were more than just 'Max', Ms. Spanker and 'off-screen voice' involved) was under the influence to a degree. The authorities should've (maybe did) check all local sales/thefts of corrugated sheet metal in amounts larger than about 4'X4' as it looks pretty new, though that could've been achieved with a single can of metallic spray paint. It is only a matter of time before someone succeeds doing something similar with modern digital signals. These guys (and gal) threw down the gauntlet and set the bar. It'll happen again.


God
Posted 04 December 2007 at 04:57 pm

He shall burn in hell for disrupting Dr.Who!


indigo-angel
Posted 05 December 2007 at 08:49 pm

Shot the hijacker! He has my approval.
Who needs a motive? Maybe he was just proving he could, having some fun?
He could've picked a crappier show to interupt, but - Doctor Who rules.


RogueBroadcaster
Posted 18 December 2007 at 09:07 pm

This is quite a remarkable event from the 80s. It's strange that nobody that was involved has ever come forward, I'm sure the statutes of limitation have run out long ago. Then again I guess it's more fun and mysterious wondering who it may have been.


Meathammer
Posted 06 January 2008 at 06:01 pm

Grats DI.

You are now being used as a quote on Wikipedia for this incident.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Headroom_pirating_incident

Now you've made it to the big show. Today Wikipedia, tomarrow the world!!!


worp8
Posted 16 January 2008 at 07:27 am

Enter your reply text here.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2235172,00.html
Have a look at this one. Max is not alone


Katie
Posted 25 January 2008 at 04:57 pm

i bet the guy was drunk when he did that. it sure seems like it. what a freaky thing to do


Katie
Posted 25 January 2008 at 05:01 pm

God said: "He shall burn in hell for disrupting Dr.Who!"

Dr.who is a good show. i don't know if he'll burn in hell, though. sorry


Falco Peregrinus
Posted 25 June 2008 at 03:06 am

Fresh from reading the New Coke debacle article, "The American Gustation Crisis of 1985", I am compelled to propagate the nitpickery of pointing out the dubious use of crescendo after "Max's" breaking news story. Crescendo, Catch the Wave!


BenKinsey
Posted 22 September 2008 at 09:05 am

That's super awesome that this was done. But wouldn't it have been so much funnier if he dressed up like Dr. Who and acted out the rest of the show in a cut up way with a cut up script? Have the characters act totally out of character ya know. It might have taken some people a minute to realize that this was not really the show.


monkeipeg
Posted 17 November 2008 at 07:12 am

Mike Hearn already answered this, but I got the idea to ask it before I read his comment and I just really want to ask it =D. So with the whole Digital Transition of TV almost upon us, is it pretty much impossible for this to be replicated? What about now, since some people still have analog, could it be done? I rarely watch TV, but if creepy intriguing stuff like this was happening all the time, you can bet I'd be glued to it 24/7.


Orlando
Posted 23 November 2008 at 10:14 pm

Technically, it would be completely possible to set up Pirate TV Stations in the wake of the Analog shift. Since Digital can't be picked up by Analog, and Analog can't be picked up by Digital, all someone needs to do is slap a transmitter onto a communications tower somewhere and bam, we've got pirate television.


Panther in the Den
Posted 09 November 2009 at 09:15 am

I happened to be watching and recording the Dr Who episode when this event happened. What a trip! :)

RE: Post #73 - Translation by Malregarbitation on 17 February 2007 at 07:13 am
I completely agree with their translation with the exception as noted at the bottom...

“I still see the X…” (There’s a CC episode titled “The Big X”)
- This is the correct translation. Especially after him humming the Clutch Cargo theme. "The Big X" was the final series of the Clutch Cargo cartoons. He was lamenting the loss of the series.

“Haaaa… ohhhhhhh, my piles!” (i.e., hemorrhoids)
- Often described as unintelligible (I thought it was pretty clear) this translation makes sense with him gyrating from side to side and moaning. It also goes along with his next phrase.

“Oh I just laid a giant master keister all over the greatest world newspaper nerds!”
- Here I would have the translation read "masterpiece" in stead of "master keister".

I believe this was the last pirate hijack of a broadcast network TV signal.


Shaun Wilkinson
Posted 06 January 2014 at 06:32 am

Nobody else get freaked out by the sudden appearance of a picture of the guy from this story suddenly appearing and taking over the entire window for a second?


Peck
Posted 23 January 2014 at 01:10 pm

@ Shaun: I am surprisingly mildly creeped out by the original video, but my heart skipped a beat when -that- happened! Funny effect, dear damninteresting team. (I WAS you, right?)

Anyway, for those interested: three years ago someone close to the Chicago hacking scene in the eighties posted on reddit a longer article about the possible!! background of the incident. http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/eeb6e


Mrinal
Posted 03 February 2014 at 07:22 am

I just noticed, while scrolling down this page immediately after it loads, the page blacks out and there's static for a sec and then there is the rubber masked guy. This happens only for a few seconds and it's gone.

It happens again when you reload the page.

Anybody else experience that?

Dear "Damninteresting" ... Is this done on purpose?


Bella
Posted 26 March 2014 at 12:37 am

Shaun Wilkinson said: "Nobody else get freaked out by the sudden appearance of a picture of the guy from this story suddenly appearing and taking over the entire window for a second?"

Yeah, I almost made a Masterpiece.


akaaccount
Posted 05 August 2014 at 10:08 am

Nice touch.


END OF COMMENTS
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